The Digital War Will Happen By Satellite

The Poynter Institute’s Mike Wendland pens this gushing article about the transition of TV news from Electronic News Gathering (ENG)–the traditional videotape and studio model–to Satellite News Gathering (SNG)–marked by the use of miniDV cams and laptops to produce video news beamed back to the studio on ultra-portable satellite rigs. Of course, this new technology is expected to be put to service in covering the anticipated war on Iraq. Wendland quotes the CBS vice president of operations in charge of the network’s war coverage technology, who says

“This will be known as the digital war… Our people will be able to tap into the newsroom e-mail system at any time from right on the battlefield.”

Now, I’ll admit the tech is cool, but I’ll also bet that it won’t really be used to its full potential. By and large, the point behind the miniturization of the news crew is to save the networks money while allowing them to get the latest scoop from the US military-guided press pool a few moments ahead of the competition.

This tech could be used to do truly probing and investigative journalism. A news studio in a backback could allow just one or two reporters to be on their own in Iraq reporting what’s really going on — outside the paternal gaze of military guides. Using this kind of equipment could allow journalists to break free of studio trucks, big satellite dishes and military censors to follow leads more quickly, wherever they may lead.

But I’ll be suprised if any mainstream news organization takes any risks even remotely close to this. No, they’ll just use this stuff to bring the latest military-approved propaganda to our TVs quickly and cheaply.

It’s also interesting to note that the folks who make it possible for Patriot missiles to rain down on the citizens of Baghdad will also bring you the military-filtered video of the explosions in the Baghdad sky. The SNG systems being used by NBC is co-developed by Raytheon Corp., one of the world’s largest defense contractors. Now, that’s vertical integration!






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